BAGUIO CITY – The 2nd Division of the Supreme Court (SC) ordered the suspension of a Baguio-based lawyer from the practice of law for one year after finding him guilty of engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral and deceitful conduct in violation of the Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.
In a 5-page resolution signed by Division Chairperson Antonio T. Carpio and members Associate Justices Arturo D. Brion, Mariano c. del Castillo, Jose C. Mendoza and Marvic Leonen, the SC warned lawyer Rodrigo Cera that that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.
The SC sustained the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Board of Governors’ findings of administratively liability, as well as its recommended penalty of one year suspension from the practice of law of Cera.
When a lawyer takes a case, the SC cited he covenants that he will exercise due diligence in protecting his client’s rights and failure to exercise that degree of vigilance and attention expected of a good father of a family makes the lawyer unworthy of the trust reposed by his client, and makes him answerable not just to his client but also to the legal profession, the courts and society.
“It is apparent that Cera did not exert any effort on his client’s case and completely reneged on the obligations due his client. The respondent lied to the complainant that he had made the necessary application and payment with the NSO for the issuance of the birth certificates of the complainant’s children. Despite the complainant’s repeated requests, the respondent failed to comply with their agreement to provide a psychologist to administer the necessary psychological test, thus, causing further delay in the proceedings of the complainant’s annulment case,” the SC resolution added.
Clearly, the SC pointed out these actions showed Cera’s negligence and lack of zeal in handling the complainant’s case for which he should be made administratively liable. He violated not only Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the same code, which provides that ‘a lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.’
Moreover, the SC cited Cera failed to live up to his duties as a lawyer when he unlawfully withheld the complainant’s money and the money given to him was never used for its intended purposes, as could be gleaned from the NSO’s non-issuance of birth certificates of the complainant’s children and by the non-administration of psychological test on the complainant and her children. His omissions confirm that the respondent misappropriated the funds of his client, in violation of Canon 16 that holds a lawyer in trust of all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession.
The resolution cited Cera, likewise, violated Rule 16.03 of Canon 16 which provides that ‘a lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand’ when he failed to return the complainant’s money. Cera’s restitution cannot serve to mitigate his administrative liability as he returned the complainant’s money not voluntarily but for fear of possible criminal liability.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Celina F. Andrada against Cera for allegedly engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral and deceitful conduct in violation of the Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.
She reportedly gave Cera the total amount of P13,000 for the processing of the NSO birth certificates of her children and advance payment for the lawyer’s professional fees but Cera reportedly did not do what was asked for him prior to the filing of her annulment case.
Because of the refusal of Cera to return the aforesaid amount to her, the complainant then filed an administrative complaint against him before the IBP.
She alleged that Cera’s irresponsible, deceitful and unprofessional conduct in handling her case, his failure to file the necessary application with the NSO for the issuance of her children’s birth certificates, and to provide for a psychologist to administer psychological test on herself and her children, as well as his tardiness or absence during hearings resulted in the unwarranted delay of her case and forced her to file a new annulment case against her husband.
It was only on April 2012 that Cera returned to the complainant the amount of P17,280 pursuant to a compromise agreement that the parties entered into in exchange for the dismissal of a criminal case for estafa filed by her.
By Dexter A. See